This post comes at the very end of this most surprising of projects. My finger has even momentarily hovered over the submit button of the final report on the Grantium portal.
Anxiety always makes me early, so I can afford to sit on it for a few days. I think I need to remind myself that this has been a research and development project. Also, that I am a neurodivergent person! This will explain why the evaluation has felt like landing a space ship on a postage stamp. We go deep!
Alongside a more polished online exhibition, I have eagerly shared many of my process works on Instagram, along with my backstory. Today I had an interesting conversation, in which I realised such process works are perhaps often not understood. The truth is I’ve been in thrall to the collage form, which has sparked a fever of making! I promised ACE I would make 16 works and I now have an archive of 215+ works stacked in neat boxes. Collage drew me in & ordered me to submit to a form I had underestimated. I would love to see it more considered in the Arts, but I digress.
Process is making, and making is art. There are even skills to be learned on the way. All obvious points I know, but I think it is easy to forget about the importance of humble making.
Today I happened also to read Against Neoliberal Dogma: Art And Creativity by Jörg M. Colberg, which I found illuminating.
“In the creative field the real outcome of anything you do is only partly provided by the end result. The process itself — that’s where the actual enjoyment (and frustrations) lie.
Social media make this fact very hard to see, because everybody only talks about outcomes (which obviously are always super successful). The struggles of the process and the inevitable failures remain hidden. Nobody wants to talk about that because in a neoliberal world, your public face depends on being seen as successful.”
It is easy to get caught in this trap as an artist, I know. I feel glad to have sprung it, because my project is about unmasking to centre my autistic identity in my work, and in any case my work has always been process-led.
Key to my unmasking is a renewed unwillingness to perform, conform or submit to neurotypical expectations. They are disabling for me, and I refuse to be shaped (and in the process crushed) by them. The process is the point.
So quite naturally this project took me deeper in to my process, and continue my research (ACE project by ACE project) to work as accessibly as I can, and find ways to articulate the need for system change. Emergent from all this process work is a new language and my fever is also that of finally finding the means to speak in a way that is not verbal or text based. I only recently identified my own situational mutism (SM), through my contact with an artist & close friend called Sonja Zelić, who is a longstanding advocate for SM.
Instagram has been my studio & my sketchbook throughout my project, & I have loved every minute of it.
Polished work can be a thing of great beauty & value, obviously. Pionnering work in the making is something quite other. My project has been humbling, it has also felt generous & brave. I hope you’ll pop over to view xx
Thank you Arts Council England! My Neurophototherapy R&D project has had the most profound impact on my practice and in my life too.
The gifts of Neurophototherapy have included collage, and a deep immersion in the collage form and online community. This has powered a prolonged maker/research phase, and altered some of my outcomes. Although I have hit all my targets I’ve needed extra time.
Oh, and that’s another thing! ACE, you were wonderful in understanding that neurodivergent practice sometimes takes longer and needs more space. My additional three months were granted speedily and with such compassion! Personal circumstances have changed under this long pandemic and this was so sensitively handled.
The greatest gift though is that of CONGRUENCE. This is something I talk and write about often. Achieving autistic selfhood can be an extremely perilous journey in a neurotypical world. This new transitional work, my new collage book EYE SPY BARCELONA (NEURO) nails it! I’ve finally found a way to bring all the elements of my autobiographical practice together, and here I fuse my postmemory practice and my work on neurodivergence.
This resolves the often painful schism I have experienced between my creative practice and my personal and professional advocacy. Of course, this is a personal choice. We don’t have to make work about identity, but I work autobiographically! I needed to do the emotional processing and creative working through that Neurophotherapy R&D has allowed. Photomontage and collage has provided the necessary medium to get me there.
I am so very grateful for the empowerment and energy this brings, and excited by all the conversations this project has also supported. My work is resonating and impacting across the globe, thanks to the online community. I’ve become intensely interested in collage as a powerfully transforming medium, and in the next step for this work. There are many, many avenues and iterations that are possible. My head’s in a spin and my collage fever continues!
You can see all my collage work on my Instagram account @s_boue
I have a dedicated highlight on this account called EYE SPY, where you can see all the pages.
Neurophototherapy has been full of delightful surprises, not least that the maker phase – supposedly occurring at the beginning of the project – has continued throughout it. Immersing myself in the collage community on Instagram has given me a whole new respect for the form. I often seem to set myself a challenge and my restless brain seeks newness with great regularity. I guess this is why a wide ranging multiform practice suits me so well, in addition to being conceptually right for me at a very deep level. It’s right for my brain and the neurodivergent strand of my practice, and right for the embodiment of postmemory trauma that is the backbone of so much of my work to this day. I channel the need to improvise and adapt to circumstances that displacement brings – I am the daughter of a refugee and political exile. I carry this with me everyday.
The result of adopting a new form is that I have felt like a beginner again. I always do this to myself, and it also keys in to feelings of being the youngest child (no matter how old I get or how young everyone around me!) and being an outsider, both culturally and as an autistic person. It can be both scary and breathtaking – but the fact is that I LOVE it and I need the stimulation! It’s one of the ways in which we neurodivergents can be disadvantaged in the Arts (which seems to privilege consistency within a practice). But I digress.
This extended making has seen me free up a little. It’s very different making work for exhibition (albeit very fluid and open ended in this project) and making off-the-cuff, without intentions. My Book of Boué’s has arrived as a gift! A late baby, if you like, and I do like it rather a lot. In fact I’m a little in love with my Book of Boué’s. I have a brilliant collage mentor called Miranda Millward (@scissorspaperpaste on Instagram) and we share a very close, warm and often humorous relationship. Saying that I would never part with my Book of Boué’s Miranda jokingly asked if I wouldn’t even give it to her. I’ll leave it to you in my will, I said, only half joking.
Having said all of the above, one feature that I particularly enjoyed about working directly into a book was the discipline of working through the pages. I loved the rhythm of ticking off and sharing the pages and also the sense of completion at the end. Since making my Book of Boué’s I have made several more #collage_between_the_covers responses and feel I will make more.
You can see more pages from the Book of Boué’s at @s_boue
Image description: Head and shoulders shot of Sonia Boue as an adult, holding a vanity mirror over her face. The back of the mirror has been collaged with spliced photographs of Sonia’s face as an adult and child.
I’m delighted to be soft launching my online exhibition for this R&D project, exploring ways of sharing work which suits my neurology.
Origin Story has been published on my website for about 10 days now, and I’ve been slowly sharing the link with some of my contacts before sending out my SM posts yesterday.
I’ve created multiple formats for my exhibition to make it as accessible as I can, whilst also thinking carefully about my own needs as an autistic artist. Conventional templates for how we showcase work are not compatible with my neurology, dictating a certain kind attention-seeking when showing work. These conventions create barriers for me, and I’ve needed to find ways to subvert them. This aspect of my research matters because so many aspects of exhibition are disabling. I want to write about this quite strongly in my project evaluations to ACE.
The pandemic has given our sector pause for reflection, individually we’ve also all probably had to reassess our priorities during this extended hiatus. I know I have, even pivoting my practice to adapt to this strange new reality of ‘living with covid’. It’s not business as usual, and there’s no going back (for me) to what was. I welcome this slewing of skin and I am confident that my project can reach the parts that no other project can, because it is powered by innate autistic navigational means, not despite me being autistic. My project has already generated unexpected outcomes and exceeded expectations.
I’ve always been about producing quality work and leaving a solid online trail. This is my hallmark and I’ve built a career this way quite naturally and without intention. For me it’s about the work first. I put it out there and see what happens without expectation. It’s okay to be quietly confident and self-contained.
I’m no longer willing or able to ask for attention in a performance of ‘neurotypicality’. My project is about autistic unmasking and it’s been a big success on that score. It’s logical and also necessary to my emancipation as an autistic professional to follow through. This moment is about turning the tide .
As Neurophototherapy gently unfurls I simply note and welcome the responses. I’m watchful in all respects, noting also when the work is met with indifference. Knowing who your audiences are (who genuinely values you) is key. I’m so grateful to Arts Council England for supporting me to do this my way.
Image description: Sonia Boue is a white middle aged woman, wearing a black jumper and black rimmed glasses. She has short cropped hair and the photograph shows her using a brush and mirror set which has been collaged with photographs of her face.
So, somehow it’s June and I’ve just prerecorded my artist’s talk with the fabulous Jennifer Gilbert, founder of the Jennifer Lauren Gallery! Hosted by Disability Arts Online this talk will be streamed to celebrate World Autistic Pride Day on June 18th, with live Q&A to follow. It will have closed captions and BSL interpretation, and has also been a wonderfully affirming and accessible process. I felt completely supported by Jennifer in every aspect of organising and curating the the talk, high professional values really do equal access I often find. Working with known and trusted professionals is also vital.
In fact, this project has been an access dream, in large part due to the superb support of my longtime mentor Miranda Millward, whose collage work is also amazing and can be found @scissorspaperpaste on Instagram.
Together we designed the project around my specific needs, and as longtime collaborators we had a good bank of learning and knowledge to draw on. Using my innate autistic navigational methods, I’ve worked through each phase of my project intuitively. I’ve used no checklists, and not referred to my project activity plan, because my project is in my mind’s eye. My brain is just not wired for these more conventional methods of working through a plan, and unless the task absolutely requires fine detail, lists and written notes just get in the way. If my projects are well designed I can feel my way through. It’s been exactly as it should be. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work in this way and also to share my learning with others.
The way Arts Council England ask you to structure an activity plan can feel daunting when you have a brain like mine, but it is vitally important to interrogate a project ahead of submitting an application. I find the activity plan helps reveal the gaps in my thinking, so I understand it as a useful tool in preplanning the work. The trick is to find the format that works for you. I can’t think in a linear way, but I can think in metaphors and I can create mind maps. In this case, as soon as I imagined each task needing to hang on a calendar (like fruits on a tree) I could draw it. It helped me provide a sequence recognisable enough for linear brains. What seemed impossible became much simpler, and this task does get easier with practice.
I don’t work sequentially, I work circularly, and so each distinct phase of the project (on paper) is (in reality) more fluid, with a great deal of overlap. My project is all the richer for it, and my outcomes have already exceeded expectations. Unexpected events have occurred, and I’ve had the flexibility within my project design to work round them.
I’ve also been on an access journey in preparing my online exhibition Origin Story, making sure it has as many formats as possible for improved accessibility. An experiential learner, I found it important to think it all through and curate it myself, after consulting other examples. I now have a real sense about the ways in which making sound files and writing image descriptions (for example) add layers and texture to the work, and my exhibition feels like a more generous and richer offer because of the access features. I feel positively evangelical about this!
I’m extremely excited to share some of the fruits of the Neurophototherapy tree in this next phase of the project, which is all about disseminating the work to engender conversations. I do hope you can join us for the talk, and even pop in to my website to see the show!